Posted by: gotrain | August 8, 2008

Chinese Innovation

This morning I was watching the opening ceremonies of the Olympic games in Beijing and they were showing early Chinese innovations like paper, printing and the compass. I didn’t know these things originated in China. The artists were putting on a beautiful and spectacular demonstration that was artistic and highly technical and disciplined.

Yesterday I met a business owner near my office to talk about developing a high performance organization and to see if we could work together to improve his business, I had met Tim a few months ago when I was acting as a judge for the local Chamber of Commerce Accolades award for the most innovative company in the region. I remembered the visit I had made with the two other judges and how I was impressed with the small innovative and flexible firm he had built. They had managed to take standard everyday products and develop them into new designs and functions that addressed specific needs in niche markets.

I had bought along an article that talked about how important innovation is to competing globally and gave an example of a firm in Ontario that was leading in their field because of their innovative approach to their product and market, as well as they way they functioned.

We talked about China and the challenge that manufacturers face because of the easier access to products from there and China’s great ability to manufacture at a much lower cost. He told me of his experience with trying to outsource some manufacturing to China and how it failed. He said that they are good for producing high volume low quality products. I felt differently because although I see that many low priced products produced there are generally lower quality, I have seen great improvements in the quality of many products from China over the years. Tim pointed out that larger firms are able to handle their own quality control in China or build factories in partnership with local owner/operators.

Learning this morning about China’s past and it’s remarkable innovations clashed in my mind with the observation made by Tim. We has also talked about what it takes to build a high performance autonomous workforce and the key point we agreed on was that it takes a continuous improvement attitude from all people in the organization to not only drive innovative thinking but to empower people to do so. This is scary for many small and medium size business owners because it means giving up power and control to a great degree to your people. At the same time not doing so hinders the potential growth of the organization as well stunts creative thinking and thus makes the organizationless inflexible and less able to compete.

In my mind, this is what happened in China. The great discoveries and innovations were made long before the restrictiveness of communistic rule began to act on the psyche of the Chinese population. Since then China has become a land of control and imitation. They seems to be great at replicating what others are creating and doing it fast and less costly.

For North American manufacturers to survive and grow, they must foster innovation and continuous improvement throughout the organization and the attitude for this begins with the president and his executive team. They must be willing to embrace a management style that promotes creativity and open sharing of ideas. They must also realize the importance and value in generating strong team spirit throughout the departments. To do this requires the top leaders to examine and improve their own leadership and teamwork behaviours and insists that those they manage do the same. This will then drift down throughout the organization and when reinforced will become the behaviour to emulate and thus mold the culture of the enterprise.



  1. Your blog is interesting!

    Keep up the good work!

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